Labor Official Says There is Executive Suite Discrimination Against Jews

A Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor said here that discrimination against hiring Jews to fill top corporate executive positions persists although “the exclusions come in many cases as a great shock to the corporations themselves.” The situation was discussed at length by John L. Wilkes who oversees contract compliance in the Department of Labor. Wilkes addressed a luncheon for 45 local corporation presidents and principals representing 22 St. Louis-based major corporations. It was arranged by the Executive Employment Opportunity Committee of the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Employment and Vocational Service. The government official said that “most of the major national corporations in St. Louis have few if any Jews in the executive or managerial levels of employment.” He said, “Some people attribute this more to traditional recruitment and hiring patterns rather than conscious discrimination.” He added, “I would generally agree with this evaluation, although in some cases, it may be too charitable a judgement.” Wilkes said that for some time four or five Jews have served on the boards of directors of banks and major corporations apart from several originally founded by Jews. But, he said in many cases, the appearance of Jews as presidents, vice-presidents or in other executive positions was the result of the acquisition of smaller Jewish-owned companies by major corporations. “If it hadn’t been for the acquisitions, the picture over the past five years would have changed scarcely at all,” he said.

“These are the facts,” Wilkes said. “They cannot be disputed. Nor can we dispute the fact that executive suite discrimination is both economically and socially costly. One hears that there is a crying need for top management talent in this country, yet through discriminatory practices, companies shut off a prime source of talent.” Wilkes emphasized that Jews “are merely the chief current victims of executive suite discrimination.” He noted that many doors were once closed to Catholics and some still are, “Meanwhile, executive suite discrimination is bound to continue as a growing impediment for Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, Orientals, American Indians and other non-whites, as more members of these groups move toward the levels where they will qualify for management positions,” Wilkes said. “Any success in the Jewish group’s fight against bias, therefore, is likely to become a most important precedent for other minorities in the future.” Wilkes suggested that corporate executives examine statistics in their own companies to determine if discrimination exists and then “issue clear statements on non-discriminatory policy, instructions to personnel staffs to carry out equal opportunity policies communication of the policy to all levels of the company, actual promotion and transfer of minority group members, and the use of Jewish organizational advice in developing recruitment policies.”

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